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Five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx has shared a memory of Mark Cavendish, the man with whom he now shares the record for most Tour de France stage wins after the latter sprinted to victory on stage 13.
“I haven’t seen him in a long time, but in his first period with Quick-Step Mark Cavendish sometimes slept at my home, with some other riders, during the criteriums,” Merckx told Le Soir. “Mark was the only one who cleaned his room, and left it neat and tidy. A gentleman of exemplary politeness. We don’t really know the character of the man behind the image he presents, but what I get from him in the first place is simply his kindness. He is charming even.”
This comes the morning after Cavendish owned up to having sometimes “been a prick” at the post-stage press conference, which only confirms Merckx’s character analysis – the mask and the man behind it are two different entities. If there’s one thing that’s true about this year’s Tour, it’s that the ‘Manx Missile’s comeback is twofold – physical and mental. In short, he’s happy again.
Merckx too seems happy to see Cavendish back where he belongs, even if it means his stage win record is under serious threat.
“I sleep very well, I have no nightmares!” Merckx joked. “The numbers never stuck in my head, the history of cycling follows its path. It’s all normal, it’s even fun.
“I also hear that Cavendish might be the greatest sprinter of all time, but it’s impossible to say. Compared to the number of 34 victories, it’s clear that mine were obtained on different profiles, but there’s no need to dwell on this. What Cavendish has done is wonderful, he must enjoy it again.”
Merckx also talked more specifically about Cavendish’s comeback.
“When you see where he was in recent years, he didn’t win any prizes, not even in kermesses. His return to Quick Step has put him back on his feet in every respect and all elements have contributed to his success. He wasn’t going to come to the Tour, Bennett’s withdrawal helped him there and, at the start of the event, the man considered the fastest, Caleb Ewan, fell. It changed everything in the perception of the sprint, both for [Cavendish] and his team. He has no serious competitors individually, and Quick Step has no serious competitors in the sprint train. We say it every year, but I love the way the Belgian team rides.”
Cavendish has won every bunch sprint he’s participated in so far at this Tour. If he and the Deceuninck-QuickStep sprint train can get through the Pyrenees inside the time limit, the green jersey-wearer has two more chances to beat the record, including the fabled sprint up the Champs-Élysées. And Eddy Merckx will apparently be in Paris to see it.